Ghewond's History


Translator's Preface


[i] Almost nothing is known about the life of Ghewond, author of the sole 8th century Armenian history describing the Arab domination. It has been suggested that he was born in the 730s in the village of Goght'n, received his clerical education and degree of vardapet (doctor of the Church) in the city of Dwin, and died in the latter part of the century. His History covers the period from ca. 632 to 788 and includes descriptions of the Arab invasions of Armenia in the mid 7th century, the wars fought by the caliphate against Byzantium and the Khazars, the settlement of Arab tribes in Asia Minor and the Caucasus, and the overthrow of the Umayyads, as well as information on Arab tax policies, the status of the Armenian Church, and the Armenian and Arab nobilities. Ghewond is considered a trustworthy historian. He correctly lists the caliphs and the lengths of their reigns, except for the reigns of the initial three caliphs. He correctly lists the names and reigns of the ostikans or Muslim governors of the newly-created administrative unit called Arminiya, which included Armenia, East Iberia/Georgia, and parts of Aghuania (Atrpatakan/Azerbaijan). He was a supporter of the ambitions of the Bagratid family and, according to the colophon at the end of his History, wrote under the patronage of Shapuh Bagratuni, son of Smbat sparapet (commander-in-chief), whose activities are recorded in the work.

Ghewond's major source for the period of the Arab invasions (640-660s) was the 7th century historian Sebeos [see Sebeos' History, chapters 30-38]. For the first half of the 8th century Ghewond was relying on the accounts of older contemporaries, but for the second half of the century he himself was a bitter eyewitness. He describes the increasing harshness of Arab tax policies and the growing intolerance of individual caliphs and their governors, which triggered two unsuccessful rebellions in Armenia (747-750 and 774-775). Martyrological literature may have been a source for part of chapter 40. That chapter contains the first reference to the Armenian Era (a system of dating with A.D. 551/552 as year one) which later Armenian historians were to adopt. However, the date Ghewond provides for the martyrdom in question is incorrect. Another source which Ghewond claims—"the enemy himself"—is quite suspicious. In that passage (in chapter 34), Arab soldiers—who have just annihilated Armenian rebels—purport to have seen priests with candles, incense, and gospels encouraging their foe. This is a literary device rather than a source. Fellow clergymen, Armenian nobles, and the author's own observations seem to be principal sources for much of the 8th century. The Bible was a clear source of inspiration for Ghewond throughout his life and throughout his History. Our author was a fatalist and moralizer who attributed all calamities to God's vengeance. Consequently he had no sympathy for rebels, be they Armenian lords and peasants who challenged the Arab overlords, or the iconoclastic Paulician sectarians (the "sons of sinfulness") who challenged the Armenian Church in this period. In Ghewond's account, the failings of the Christian Armenians were due entirely to their own sins, but so too were the failings of the Muslim Arabs. Ghewond's worldview is consistently negative, probably a reflection of the bleakness of the period he chronicled.

[ii] There is some question whether Ghewond's text has reached us intact. Titles provided by some later medieval historians could imply that the work began with an account of the prophet Muhammad's life, though this is not certain. The late 13th century historian Step'annos O'rbelean, in chapter 7 of his History of the State of Sisakan, claimed that Ghewond's History contained a gahnamak or list of princes, but the extant text of Ghewond does not. The lack of a concluding section also seems peculiar, especially for an author so prone to moralizing. In addition to possibly missing portions, Ghewond's text may have gained a section (chapters 13-14), containing the lengthy correspondence between Caliph 'Umar II and Emperor Leo III, which many scholars today regard as a later interpolation. The most detailed study of Ghewond's text remains father Nerse's Akinean's Ghewond er'ets' patmagir [The Historian Ghewond the Priest] (Vienna, 1930; also in the journal Hande's amso'reay, vols. #43-44, 1929-1930). In a deliberately provocative section of his study Akinean suggested that Ghewond and another historian, Movse's Xorenats'i, were one and the same person. However vocabulary, style, and worldview—among other factors—rule this out, and Akinean's proposal has found no support among scholars.

Eight of the surviving fourteen manuscripts of Ghewond's History are housed at the Matenadaran in Yerevan, Armenia. The oldest and most complete (ms. #1902) dates from the 13th century and seems to have been the source of the other copies, many of which are defective. The first publication of the classical Armenian text was made by K. V. Shahnazarean (Paris, 1857), based on a 17th century manuscript. A better edition was prepared by K. Ezean and issued by S. Malxasean (St. Petersburg, 1887), based on several manuscripts, including the earliest. Translations have been made into French by Shahnazarean/Chahnazarean (Paris, 1856); Russian by K. Patkanean (St. Petersburg, 1862); and modern Armenian by Aram Ter-Ghewondyan (Yerevan, 1982). An English translation and scholarly commentary of chapters 13-14 was issued by A. Jeffery [Ghevond's Text of the Correspondence between 'Umar II and Leo III, Harvard Theological Review, 37 (1944) pp. 269-332]. The first complete English translation [History of Lewond, the Eminent Vardapet of the Armenians] was published by father Zaven Arzoumanian (Philadelphia, 1982), and includes an introduction, valuable notes, and a map. Our translation below was made from the classical Armenian text of Ezean/Malxasean (St. Petersburg, 1887, second edition) and excludes chapters 13-14.

For the history of the 7-8th centuries see: C. Toumanoff's article, "Armenia and Georgia," [Chapter XIV in The Cambridge Medieval History, vol. IV, The Byzantine Empire, part I, (Cambridge, 1966), pp. 593-637]; N. G. Garsoian, "The Arab Invasions and the Rise of the Bagratuni (640-884)", in The Armenian People from Ancient to Modern Times, vol. I, R. G. Hovannisian, ed. (N.Y., 1997); and A. Ter-Ghewondyan, The Arab Emirates in Bagratid Armenia (Lisbon, 1976), translated by N.G. Garsoian. On the Paulicians see N. G. Garsoian, The Paulician Heresy (Paris, 1967); V. Nersessian, The Tondrakian Movement (London, 1987), chapter 3; and S. Dadoyan, The Fatimid Armenians (Leiden, 1997), chapter two. A fascinating history of the Paulicians and their descendants is available on another page of this website, Matti Moosa's important Armenian Elements in the Beliefs of the Kizilbash Kurds. The maps and accompanying text in R. H. Hewsen, Armenia, A Historical Atlas (Chicago, 2000) pp. 104-107 also are valuable. Later epic literature, including the Armenian David of Sasun and John Mamikonean's History of Taron, and the Byzantine Digenes Akrites perhaps contain material reflecting this period.

The transliteration used here is a modification of the new Library of Congress system for Armenian, substituting x for the LOC's kh, for the thirteenth character of the Armenian alphabet (խ). Otherwise we follow the LOC transliteration, which eliminates diacritical marks above or below a character, and substitutes single or double quotation marks to the character's right. In the LOC romanization, the seventh character of the alphabet (է) appears as e', the eighth (ը) as e", the twenty-eighth (ռ) as r', and the thirty-eighth (o), as o'.

Robert Bedrosian
Long Branch, New Jersey 2006

A Note on Pagination

The following chronological tables may be useful as accompaniments to the translation. The tables open in separate windows, for persistence.

Rulers of Armenia and of Eastern and Western Empires
Kat'oghikoi and Corresponding Secular Rulers of the Armenians
Arab Governors of Arminiya, 8th Century

Additional tables are available on another page of this site: Chronological Tables.
Maps are available on our Maps Page.

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